Film Review: Jhund is nice, but…!

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Amitabh Bachchan enacts a real-life football coach in Jhund. Photo: Universal Communications

So okay, the film has a hard-hitting social message or two. So okay, the film has its heart in the right place. So okay, the film is spectacularly shot (Sudhakar Reddi Yakkanti) and its football action lensed that much better than most of our by-now abundant sports sagas, and the production design (Pankaj Shivdas Poal), costumes (Priyanka Gayatri Dubey and Mahananda Sagare) and make-up (credits not known) are ultra-realistic.

And Saket Kanetkar’s background score is super, as are an entire cavalcade of new artistes playing the slum dwellers, most of who have their own names as their screen characters, and sizably are reportedly to hail from similar backgrounds.

But, as a noted director once told me, “There is a problem with a film when you say it’s A, B and C departments were very good, in trying to justify a movie that does not work on the whole.” Let me amend that statement for this film: Jhund, overall, is also nice, impressive in concept, but not in execution. As I often say, it’s difficult to both watch and analyze when a film is not bad at all, but there are other issues that stop it from being a watch-worthy movie!

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And so, what were the problem areas of this retelling the true story of retired football coach Vijay Barse’s tryst with slum dwellers and his forming an NGO, Slum Soccer, in Nagpur? For starters, we have the heavily indulged length: 178 minutes! Yikes!

In the last many years, we have grown accustomed to crisp films, and a longer length is justified only by content. But over here, the content is not solid enough to justify more than 2 hours at best. It was the content that held the similar ABCD—Anybody Can Dance (2013) together, and it was the pace and intensity that made the gritty and underdog-themed Hichki (2018) score—both films were big hits, all things considered.

The songs (Ajay-Atul, as always off-form in a Hindi setup) are another downer. They are raucous and supposed representations of Marathi folk but unlike really good music in that genre, fail to be remembered as soon as they are over. They are also over-orchestrated.

For another aberration, director and writer Nagraj Popatrao Manjule makes the second half almost documentary-like when he too mundanely and boringly narrates the difficulties faced by Ankush (Ankush Gedam) and Monika (Rinku Rajguru) in getting a passport so that they can go and participating in a world football tournament of slum dwellers.

The needlessly long and inconclusive (as shown) court scene for Ankush and the false alarm of his being cornered again by Sambhya (Akash Thosar) and his goons only add to ennui instead of enhancing the drama.

Also, the many crises that are shown to come throughout, like the money issue at Vijay’s home with his son, or the refusal by the authority to entertain Vijay’s fanciful notion of slum-dwellers’ football, as well as the other examples mentioned above, are all dealt with in a drab, even prosaic, non-dramatic manner. Many other scenes are patchily and abruptly cut and the editing alternates between indulgent and jerky, as if the editors (Vaibhav Dabhade and Kutub Inamdar) have been instructed to do their job in extremes.

The story is a reprise of all such real and fictional sports film and biopics. The underdogs are gradually shown to be champions. A retired sports teacher senses and finds extraordinary football talent in a motley group of slum-dwellers who smoke, drink hooch and even do petty crimes. It is hinted that all this is because of a callous society that offers their goodness and talent zero chances. But here again, there is negligible drama, for example like a crushing initial defeat that motivates as they emerge into ace footballers. Instead, they lose the first half of a match and are tepidly told to play well by Professor Vijay (a name long associated with Amitabh in his peak).

As Professor Vijay Borade, Amitabh Bachchan goes through the motions without a single extraordinary sequence. The scene-stealer is Ankush Gedam as Ankush Meshram, him with the super-expressive eyes and pitch-perfect body language. Ditto some of his friends, notably the one who plays the banjo, the small boy in the group (Chhotu) and the funny young man who hits the ball last at the abovementioned match, and the feisty Raziya (Razia Kazi). Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru, who starred as leads in the director’s hit Marathi film Sairaat, are wasted in inconsequential roles, with Thosar doing just okay as Sambhya.

A thumbs-up to all the newcomers is needed. Wish I could do the same for the film, which is nice, but seems to go on and on…and on. This is not a movie experience that will see a jhund (crowd) at the theatres.

Rating: **1/2

Zee Studios present T-Series Films’, Tandav Entertainment’s & Aatpaat Production’s Jhund. Poduced by: Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Savita Raj Hiremath, Raaj Hiremath, Nagraj Popatrao Manjule, Gargee Kulkarni, Sandip Ssingh & Meenu Arora Written & Directed by: Nagraj Popatrao Manjule Music: Ajay-Atul Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Ankush Gedam, Kishore Kadam, Chhaya Kadam, Arjun Radhakrishnan, Akash Thosar, Rinku Rajguru, Razia Kazi, Sayali Narendra Patil, Vishakha Uikey, Bhushan Manjule, Priyanshu Kshatriya, Chirag Sharma,Yogesh Uikey & others

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